The Nebraska season is about mid-way through and the report card would still read incomplete, but the reason to be optimistic about a passing grade is fading fast. The Huskers are 4-3 after the loss to Oklahoma State this past weekend and are preparing for the Aggies of Texas A&M. Here is a run-down from the Oklahoma State game:
GLASS HALF FULL
- Nebraska was VERY impressive on kickoff returns against Oklahoma State. They averaged 21+ yards per return. Nebraska was set up with good field position on these returns, but could never capitalize.
- I was at least somewhat pleased to see Nebraska come back to the run, however, it was almost to a fault. I saw some life along the offensive line too, like from Carl Nicks, who was very excited to get some holes up front.
GLASS HALF EMPTY
- After getting good field position a number of times after good returns, Nebraska was still only able to put up 14 points on Oklahoma State.
- Nebraska allowed another opponent to go over the 500 yard mark against them in total yards.
- Oklahoma State had too much success on third downs, 60%, and Nebraska had too little, 35%.
- Nebraska, and more to the point Sam Keller, doesn't seem interested in challenging the field vertically. I can count on two hands how many times Nebraska has thrown between the hash marks in the Missouri and Oklahoma State games.
The Huskers are going to have to get some things right, and in a hurry, to beat Texas A&M. A&M doesn't have a strong passing game, but they can hurt you with it. They can set up the throw with the need to try and contain Stephen McGee. Here are five things that must happen Saturday for Nebraska to have a chance to win:
1. Stop The Run! - Simply put, Nebraska is just allowing too many yards rushing to every opponent. A&M has a better than average running game and really have three threats to run the football.
2. Win The Battle Of Turnovers - Week in and week out, Nebraska never wins the battle of turnovers. Those turnovers need to lead Nebraska to big plays. They need to lead to scores.
3. Continues Support - The same team will take the field this weekend for Nebraska despite the recent changes at AD and the speculation that more change is about to come. Regardless, the Husker Nation must heed the words of Chancellor Pearlman to give the Nebraska football team your support. They deserve it.
4. Not The Right Changes - The word last week was key personnel changes. It's like a car with a bad muffler, you can't keep turning your stereo up to hear over the bad muffler forever. Nebraska must make difficult decisions about some other personnel.
5. Throw Downfield - As I mentioned before, Nebraska has rarely challenged the field vertically in the recent games against Missouri and Oklahoma State. Too early, Nebraska is bailing and hitting a safety valve. This offense is VERY limited right now with some personnel on the field.
FIVE OBVIOUS PLAYERS TO WATCH:
1. Phillip Dillard – He is one of Nebraska's top two linebackers in terms of consistency and he has some fire. He is going to need to keep track of Mr. McGee on Saturday.
2. Maurice Purify – Mo's heroics last year silenced the people of Kyle Field. Can he repeat those efforts if they throw him the football?
3. Joe Ganz – It's just about time to see what Mr. Ganz can do for Nebraska. Physical tools don't compare to that of Sam Keller's, but Nebraska is looking for a spark.
4. Zach Potter – He continues to impress me, probably because I didn't have the highest of hopes for him, but he is someone that plays hard week in and week out.
5. Courtney Grixby – Grixby's play has been solid on defense and special teams. He has emerged as a real leader on the defense by his play. Wish some others could take some notes.
FIVE NOT SO OBVIOUS PLAYERS TO WATCH:
1. Thomas Lawson – The running and blocking threat that the Nebraska fullback used to be has turned into a viable receiving option.
2. Sean Hill – Becoming one of Sam Keller's top receiving targets. Still needs to be a viable threat underneath and long for Nebraska to improve offensively.
3. Larry Asante – The safeties are only talked about now when it comes to play that is WRONG with the defense. Asante has that ability to be a big-play safety, but hasn't lived up to the hype.
4. Blake Lawrence – If I had my way, I would make a move at more than just the MIKE and WILL positions. Nebraska has to get a SAM ready and Lawrence seems to be the guy of the future. Blake doesn't know the meaning of taking it easy on the football field.
5. Armando Murillo – There is still some developing going on there, but Murillo is emerging. He will have a break out game one of these weeks and it might come against A&M.
The hire of Tom Osborne, and more importantly to some the firing of Steve Pederson, won't help out the football team this year when it comes to getting more wins. The AD firing and hiring was done, more or less, with the rest of the people in the athletic offices in a vacuum. The last to know and probably the largest affected. The words from Bill Callahan about this move coming during the season are true, this is a major distraction.
What doesn't help is all of the speculation that comes along with a move like this. The questions about the specific members of the coaching staff being fired or retained, who are the leading candidates to replace projected coaches, recruits start to take a look around and the overall distraction of such a move like firing the AD and bringing back a legend like Tom Osborne.
Getting back to the upcoming game against Texas A&M, I just don't know what to think anymore. I have looked for improvements every week when it came to a team that had a lot of reason to want to play hard, a lot at stake and statement games only to have the Huskers come out flat and barely finish.
I think that Nebraska will do better than barely finish this weekend when Texas A&M comes to town, but I don't think that it will be that much better. Nebraska has lost three and I have only predicted one up to this point. Well, I am predicting number two. Texas A&M makes it out of Lincoln with a win, 27-17.